Over the course of her career, Mile High City entertainer Lannie Garrett has worn many (flamboyant) hats. In this week's Westword, we profile the beloved Denver chanteuse before her induction to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame on April 16. Here is a photo gallery of Garrett's looks and costumes across the eras, as well as more of our interview, discussing her childhood, early forays into music, moving to Denver, and marrying 5280 Magazine's Dan Brogan.
Westword: Even though you didn't play music in school, what creative stuff did you do as a child?
Lannie Garrett: I came from an abusive, violent background so I did a lot of creative things. I'd go into my room late at night after everybody was fighting and drunk and crazy. I'd lock myself in my room and draw and paint and listen to records by myself early in the morning. Then I'd be up so late at night so I'd never get up and go to school. But the peaceful time in my house was from one in the morning until six. That's when I would spend time as a teenager writing poetry, listening to Simon and Garfunkel and drawing pictures of rock-and-roll idols and Bob Dylan. That's when I would be creative. I sang along to Judy Garland, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, the aforementioned Simon and Garfunkel. I'd listen to the Bee Gees and cry. [I loved] Simon and Garfunkel, “I am a rock, I am an island,” teenage angst. I sang along to a lot of the musicals [and] Barbara Streisand's first two records. I learned to sing along to Judy Garland records. I love that belty style. She was also a performer. I was drawn to being a performer and not just a singer standing on stage. She really sold the songs. I loved performers like Pearl Bailey and Louis Armstrong who also really connected with the audience.
Did you sing in choirs?
I auditioned for the choir in junior high but I didn't make it and I didn't try anything again. I didn't have any confidence and no one at home was telling me anything much. I just wanted to get out of school and get away from my parents and get on my own. Being in show business was always what I wanted to do but how was I going to figure that out? I was a file clerk, a waitress, hospital admittance clerk.
Why did you move to Denver?
I moved to Denver because at the time I'd been fired from yet another waitress job and my then-boyfriend had been fired from his job at the railroad. We were young and in our twenties and we decided to get in his Econoline hippie van and head west. We stopped in Denver to visit some friends from high school who had married and moved to Denver. I thought it was pretty. The boys decided to to go skydiving, I think at Columbine airport, and I decided to do something brave and jumped out of an airplane too. I think of that as the moment I decided to change my life. So my boyfriend and I traveled around and on the way back he dropped me off in Denver and I moved — lock, stock and barrel. He didn't come with me. I decided I wanted to get away from Chicago and all those memories.
How did you get together your own band after working with Ron Henry in his band Pride?
I didn't know how to get a band so I thought, 'where do you find musicians?' and I thought about recording studios. So I got the phonebook and looked up recording studios, and the first one was Applewood Studios. I called and said, “Hello, I'm a singer and I'm looking for a band.” The guy said, “Oh, we're a band and we're looking for a female singer.” So I went there and sang with them. They were called Forecast. I think they were fans of Weather Report. We started getting some attention and the media started writing about us and people came to see us.
First it was Forecast, then Forecast with Lannie Garret, then Lannie Garrett and Forecast, then it was the Lannie Garrett Band. I worked with a lot of those musicians for a while then I put my own bands and show together. Some of them got that I wanted to sing something simpler and not like Flora Purim. I wanted to do comedy, just pick out my own songs, I didn't want to do Top 40, I wanted to do a soul song, then I wanted to do an old ballad, a standard, a rock song. It took a while but then the musicians that believed in me came with me.
With clubs drying up in the '80s, did you have to change how you operated as a performer, especially considering you supported yourself pretty much entirely with your singing?
I did. I worked with one musician who was fabulous, his name is Ross Taylor Pitts. He could program so I could have a full-sounding band. He sang and could play guitar. We played clubs and he's still one of the dearest people I know. When he moved away he made me backup tapes. I got a job down in Santa Fe singing to tapes. I did what I had to do because I couldn't afford a band and I did that for a long time. I played New York and L.A. with backup tapes. Just little cassettes. I'd knock on doors of places that didn't have a stage and said I would stand in the corner and sing and bring people in.
You're one of the few people who is still living to be inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
Yes! Max Morath is going to be there and he's in his 90s. He's the King of Ragtime. My band and I are going to pay tribute to a lot of the other people, the 20th-century pioneers. I guess because I do so many styles, including Big Band, that Paul Whiteman discussed what to play and I said I could sing Billy Murray and so on. So they'll show a video with those people and then there will be an intermission and then I think I'll be singing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
You married Dan Brogan of 5280 magazine in 2011.
Dan started 5280 something like twenty years ago. I knew Dan because we were both on the board of Project Angel Heart. He was just a great guy. In 2006 when we opened the club Dan said he knew how hard it was to start a business and asked if there was anything they could do to help. We did some trading and then went from there. He's the love of my life. I met him so late in life and I'd never been married before. I told people that I'd never made the cover of a national magazine before but that I was shooting for the bridal issue of AARP. He's the kindest. He has integrity and we have a lot of the same values.
The last Patsy DeCline Show of the year, on April 9, is sold out.
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Colorado Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony 7 p.m. Saturday, April 16, Glenn Miller Ballroom, 1669 Euclid Avenue, Boulder, 303-492-8833, $53, 16+.